Recreational Boating Safety – Boating with Your Dog

Bob CurrieBy Bob Currie, Recreational Boating Safety Specialist
United States Coast Guard Auxiliary Station Galveston Flotilla
Those of us who have pets always have a decision to make whenever we go on an outing: whether to leave or bring our pets with us. That decision is often to bring our pets with us, especially in the case of dogs. This column will discuss bringing dogs on recreational boat trips. As you can see from the picture below, I do have some experience with this topic. My miniature poodle Teddy likes to go with me no matter where I go or how I go. He has a lot of experience riding with me. There are several things to consider before bringing your dog for a boat ride.

The Station Galveston Flotilla of the US Coast Guard Auxiliary operates out of the USCG Station Galveston base on Galveston Island. They aid the Coast Guard by providing maritime observation patrols in Galveston Bay; by providing recreational boating vessel safety checks; and by working alongside Coast Guard members in maritime accident investigation, small boat training, providing a safety zone, Aids to Navigation verification, in the galley, and watch standing.

Bob Currie with Teddy the Water Dog

Do Dogs Get Seasick?
Yes, dogs get motion sickness. If your dog is prone to motion sickness while riding in the car, he will most likely suffer the same while riding in your boat, especially if the boat is rocking at the dock or when stopped in rough water. They may be perfectly fine while underway and only become nauseated once you stop. Here are the symptoms to look for:

  • Excessive licking
  • Excessive yawning
  • Heavy drooling
  • Inactivity or lethargy
  • Dry heaving
  • Nervous pacing
  • Trembling, anxiety or fear
  • Rapid breathing

Does Dramamine Work on Dogs?
Yes, Dramamine and other antihistamines such as Benadryl work on dogs. Dog physiology is quite similar to human physiology. Your veterinarian can make recommendations for you, and can prescribe something for you to use, or simply tell you the recommended dosage for your pet based on their weight. Generally speaking, medium to large dogs should be given 25 to 50 milligrams of Dramamine at least an hour before a boat ride if they are prone to motion sickness. A puppy less than a year old is more prone to motion sickness than a grown dog because their inner ear is not fully developed until around a year of age.

Puppy Proofing Your Boat
Just as you would prepare your boat for having a young child aboard, you should also prepare your boat before bringing your dog aboard. Look around for something your dog could get into or possibly get hurt on. Dogs are naturally curious, and if you have your fishing rods stored in a rod holder with a lure attached, you may find yourself making a trip to the animal hospital to remove a couple of treble hooks from your dog’s mouth. Make certain your fishing gear and tackle are stored safely away.

PFD for Dogs?
You bet. Look at the picture again. Teddy is wearing a dog life jacket. Regardless of popular belief, not all dogs can swim. Even if your dog can swim, they may not be able to overcome the power of the waves and can quickly drown without help. Good personal flotation devices for pets have a built-in handle to help you pull your pet back aboard if they end up in the water. Teddy rides well on my kayak, but he does jump in the water occasionally, and that handle on his life jacket helps me pull him back aboard. If you are in a boat larger than a kayak, then you want to have a sturdy boat hook to grab that handle and bring your dog back aboard. A sturdy one-piece boat hook is better than the collapsing handle models, which can bend or break under load.

Sunscreen for Dogs?
Yes indeed, especially for short-haired dogs. Remember, the water reflects those damaging rays back up, making it much easier to sunburn when out on the water. Teddy has short curly hair most of the time, and his skin is pink and quite susceptible to sunburn. I load him up with sunscreen while I am applying my own.

Water, Water Everywhere, Nor Any Drop to Drink
Who doesn’t remember that line from the Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner we had to memorize? Dogs need drinking water just as we humans do, so be sure to bring a way for your dog to get the water he or she needs. In my kayak I always have a small bowl for Teddy to drink from when he is aboard. Do not let your pet drink seawater, as he will surely become sick quickly.

Where’s the Dog Head?
That’s what the toilet on a boat or ship is called. You need to provide a way to take care of your dog’s toilet needs. For short trips you can always make sure your dog has taken care of business just prior to boarding. That works great for Teddy, because that dog can hold it forever (no, he is not for sale). Even so, the urge to go is enhanced by the motion of the ocean. So, be sure to be prepared if your pet does need to heed the call of nature. They do have port-a-potty setups for dogs, or you can make your own. Puppy pads are readily available and if your dog is already trained to use one, then half your battle is over. Be prepared for accidents by having some method to clean up the waste and store it in a closed container until you can dispose of it ashore.

Pre-Departure Acclimation
To acclimate is to become accustomed to a new climate or new conditions. I can assure you that your pet is not used to being on a rocking boat. Teddy lives in a cabin at the beach that is raised on pilings, and the house does rock and shake. So, he has a little advantage over the average land-based dog. You can acclimate your pet by taking him aboard a boat that is tied to the dock. This is when you will find out whether your pet is okay with the change or terrified of the new experience. You don’t want to pull away from the dock and find this out. That experience could quickly ruin an outing. I am speaking from experience here. Our new miniature Australian shepherd doesn’t like riding in anything. No trips to the beach on the golf cart for her.

Boat Handling with a Dog Aboard
Just as you would want your human passengers to have a positive experience on the water, you should also remember that you have a dog aboard and handle your boat with extra smoothness until your pet gets used to movement on the water. It’s those changes in speed and direction that can cause canine consternation. Remember how we recommend that you tell your passengers whenever you are going to change direction or speed? You can do the same for your dog and they will associate “coming up” or “coming down” with speed changes and brace themselves accordingly. Sudden changes can throw a dog off their feet and injure them, and the experience will sour them to boat travel.

Boating with your dog can be an enjoyable experience for both you and your dog if you take the time to prepare your boat and your pet for a trip on the water.

For more information on boating safety, please visit the Official Website of the U.S. Coast Guard’s Boating Safety Division at Questions about the US Coast Guard Auxiliary or our free Vessel Safety Check program may be directed to me at [email protected] I am available to perform free Vessel Safety Checks, and I will come to your location to perform them. SAFE BOATING!


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